Self-Immolations Energize Bulgarian Protests

Protests continue in Bulgaria for 20 days without stopping. In the latest major protest, on Feb. 24, more than 200,000 people took to the streets of the biggest cities in the country – Sofia, Plovdiv and Varna. Their demands against monopolies in the energy sector and revision of the political system remain unfulfilled. Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev, speaking on Feb. 28, said he would create a caretaker government formed with the participation of civil society organizations. But the protests continue – on March 3, Bulgaria's National Day, there will be new rallies.

One of the reasons for the protests to continue are the self-immolations – three cases in less than a month, all largely neglected by the media.

One of the self-immolators, 36-year-old Plamen Goranov [bg], has become a symbol of the fight against the mafia and the political system. He is now called the “Bulgarian Jan Palach,” after the Czech student who set himself on fire in Prague in 1968, in protest against the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Plamen Goranov.

Plamen Goranov.

Goranov is one of the main critics of the mafia in his city, Varna, whose mayor Kiril Yordanov has been alleged to have ties with “the murky and powerful” TIM group. Yordanov has been the mayor of Varna since 1999. Activists believe that Goranov's self-immolation was in protest against TIM.

TIM is the informal name of a Varna economic holding group connected with “KhimImport,” founded in the mid-1990s. It is most often associated with the criminal activity of the 1990s and the economic activity of the 2000s.

According to an article [bg] in the Bulgarian newspaper “Capital,”

[…] TIM was created by ten people. All are former Marines from the “Tihina” section near Varna. This is a secret branch of the Navy, which for years has been trained as elite special forces – commandos, parachutists and divers. Most of the founders were former karate athletes who participated in the national team and took not one or two titles in international tournaments. […]

[…] In the early 1990s, reforms in the army left many former Marines unemployed. […] Good physical form and karate skills allowed the majority of them to engage in different activities requiring the use of force. […]

Bulgarian blog PsyGlass posted this [bg] about Plamen Goranov:

[…] What a name! Burning flame [refers to the translation of the name Plamen from Bulgarian]. […] Like most people, I learned about him from pictures and stories. Who is he? Why is he a hero? Why did he set himself on fire?

Plamen is a dangerous character, because he is still alive. His self-immolation is not comparable with the actions of Levski and Botev [Bulgarian national heroes]. Those whom we admire. Whose portraits we admire. But Plamen burned. He is real, his pictures are in color, they can be seen, and the background and visible context can be found. […]

[…] It's safer for heroes to have black-and-white portraits. So we can worship without questions, take their decisions for granted. They are white – perfect, flawless, bright. […]

[…] The courage to look honestly at Plamen, in all of his humanity, to ask burning questions, to seek explanations and to act according to the meaning that we find – this is the position of citizens, of humans. And maybe of heroes. […]

On the Bulgarian investigative journalism website (which was hacked a few weeks ago), a text about Plamen Goranov and the reasons for his act was published both in English and in Bulgarian, titled “Plamen Goranov – the Martyr of the ‘Bulgarian Spring’.” There is also an article about Goranov and democracy in Bulgaria on the website.

Bulgarian news blog, SamokoVest, has this [bg] on Goranov:

Plamen Goranov from Varna expressed his protest against the outrageous situation in the country and in his hometown with a staggering final act of negation. He was on fire and turned himself into a living torch for the protests.

Blogger Radan Kanev wrote [bg] about the symbolism of Goranov's self-immolation and asked why people aren't asking the government to act against the mafia:

[…] There is no compelling physical force against the citizens of Varna. No Soviet troops. Even no Bulgarian troops there. The sacrifice of Plamen Goranov is undoubtedly a protest against the shadowy power of TIM Group, which everyone talks about over coffee, beer and dinner. But Bulgaria has the power to oppose the shadow government. Varna has the power to stop it. The resources of the public authority are far greater than those of any group of thugs, any oligarch – or even all of them together. […]

[…] The only tanks that sparked this protest are the tanks of our silence. The silence of the politicians’ ‘public’ media … the silence of the otherwise noisy protests. […]

There is a Facebook group [bg] in support of Plamen Goranov, with more than 1,600 members. A concert rally has been organized through Facebook [bg] to help Goranov, who is in hospital now and in need of blood donations:

Sometimes courage causes fear inside us. Sometimes an act of understanding leads us to demonize or belittle. […] Let us try to understand the sacrifice for the sake of an idea, and it will unite us rather than divide us. […] Let's donate blood – Plamen needs it. Let us unite, at least around the idea to help this man.
Let us pray for his health and life. The initiative is part of a series of events in support of Plamen Goranov around the country.


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